May 9, 2016

Former Mets Minor League Coach & Manager: Ken Berry (1995-2001)

Allen Kent Berry was born on May 10th, 1941 in Kansas City, Missouri. Berry was a star athlete in high school in baseball, football, basketball & track. He attended Wichita State University, on a football scholarship, where he continued playing baseball, as well as running track. The six foot right hand hitting outfielder was signed by the Chicago White Sox in 1961.

He debuted the following season, as a September call up getting a hit in his first career game off the Washington Senators Bob Baird. After making brief appearances in his first three seasons, he became the White Sox main centerfielder in 1965.

Berry was one of the best defensive outfielders of his day, known as the Bandit because of his ability to leap fences & rob HRs from the hitters. One season Berry did not take batting practice after May 1st, choosing instead to shag fly balls from the players who were taking BP. He would also shag golf balls at a driving range, claiming if he could see golf balls, baseball would look huge to him while in the air.

He would win two Gold Gloves & make an All Star team. He led the league in fielding three seasons (1969-1972-1973) & came in second in that category one time (.1967).

In his rookie year he led all centerfielders in games played & put outs for the second place White Sox. He also hit his personal career high 12 HRs driving in 42 while batting just .218. Berry would never be known for his hitting, neither for average or for power.

Quotes: “Defensive plays are what I enjoyed the most,” Berry said in 2011 to the Topeka Journal. “I didn’t do a lot home-run wise. I hit a home run to win an extra-inning game at 1 a.m. against Cleveland in a doubleheader, but that was never my thing. My highlight was if I threw a guy out or if I stole a base hit or went over the fence to bring one back. That’s what I strived for.”

The next year, Berry would move over to right field as the A.L. Rookie of the Year & future Mets star Tommie Agee played in center field. That year he hit a career high twenty doubles while batting .271. In the 1967 season the White Sox fought for the pennant race until the final week of the season in a four team race between the Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins & A.L. Champion Boston Red Sox.

That season, Berry made his first All Star team, while enjoying a twenty game hit streak from late May to June 15. Berry would spend nine seasons with the White Sox, batting a best .276 with a career high 50 RBIs, while winning his first Gold Glove in his last season there in 1970.

In November 1970, Berry was traded by the Chicago White Sox along with Syd O'Brien and Billy Wynne to the California Angels for Tom Bradley, Tom Egan and Jay Johnstone. Berry secured his spot in centerfield for the Angels for the next three seasons.

In 1972 he may have had his best season, winning his second Gold Glove, leading all centerfielders in fielding (1.000%) & assists (13) & double plays turned as an outfielder (5). At the plate he posted career highs in batting (.289) as well as on base %(.347%). He followed up hitting .284 the next season which was his last full year as a regular player.

Over the next two seasons he would get traded to the Milwaukee Brewers (1974- 98 games) & finish his career with the Cleveland Indians in 1975 at age 34. In his 14 year career he hit .255 with 1053 hits 58 HRs 150 doubles 58 triples 343 RBIs & a .308 on base %.

In the outfield he posted a .990% in center (32nd best all time) & .989% overall in the outfield (58th all time). Berry has played in 1018 games in center field (83rd all time) with 63 assists (81st all time) & 2295 put outs (95th all time).

Retirement: In 1995 & 1996 Berry became the New York Mets minor league hitting instructor. In 1998 he coached the Binghamton Mets under John Gibbons, before moving on to the Pittsfield Mets in the New York Penn. League in the Mets post season years of 1999 & 2000. In 2001 he was named manager of the Kingsport Mets of the Appalachian League where he finished fifth.

After his affiliation with the Mets he managed in the Florida State League & was a roving outfield coordinator for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Trivia: Berry had a minor part as a fan in the 1988 film; Eight Men Out, while serving as a consultant on the set. Berry lives in Topeka, Kansas & runs a youth baseball league there as well.

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